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Navigating Friendships Using Tactical Empathy

By |April 24, 2023

A friend hasn’t reached out to you in a while. 

After months of not hearing from them, you receive a text. It isn’t the “Let’s catch up” text that you would be expecting though. 

Instead you get: “Would you like to be part of this new opportunity involving…”

Your answer? UNSUBSCRIBE. 

Their immediate reply? “Oh no! This is actually so and so…”

If you received a soliciting message from a friend after a long stint without talking, what would your response be? How would you go about the conversation at all?

I responded with “It can be really hard to tell the difference between what is spam and what isn’t these days…”

And “How am I supposed to feel when you haven’t spoken to me in over a year and you immediately make an ask of me?”

Try using Proof of Life, Mislabels, and Calibrated Questions to help determine someone’s intentions. In other words—figuring out whether this person actually cares about you, or if you're just being used for ____. (You can fill in the blank.) 

Let’s take a closer look at the breakdown of these skills, and why they are helpful when it comes to friendships.

Proof of Life Reinforces Friendships

In the instance above, using “Unsubscribe” as a response was a visceral Proof of Life for the friendship. No one wants to be spammed, no one wants to be used. The trouble is, we tend to be caught up in our own worlds with our own priorities. Friends can get caught in the crossfire. What might seem insignificant in our minds could be hurtful or personal in another person’s mind. 

Given at the right moment, POL sets up the relationship to grow by reminding the people involved that you’re on the same team. It goes back to the heart of Tactical Empathy, which is to demonstrate an understanding of the other person’s perspective. 

Not reaching out to someone for a long period of time and then making a big ask of them doesn’t make the other person feel heard or understood. 

It seems like obvious advice, but sometimes we can get into our “impersonal” modes and treat everyone the same. You can’t navigate every friendship or relationship in the same manner. Some friends want regular affirmation, others only need you to reach out every once in a while. 

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Mislabels Can Deepen Friendships

“It can be really hard to tell the difference between what is spam and what isn’t these days…”

The Mislabel used above is great, because it points out how the text came across to the receiver. It also points out another key purpose of the skill—to reveal someone’s intentions to themselves. 

This person who solicited a friend may not have been thinking about the ramifications of approaching them in this way. Likewise, a Mislabel can reveal how the person’s behavior is coming across. If you’re feeling isolated or used, a Mislabel can point that out without being aggressive or overly confrontational. It gives the other person the chance to understand why you didn’t receive their actions the way they might’ve intended.

It’s their chance at correcting the situation–hopefully revealing the true reason behind their actions. 

Calibrated Questions Drive the Message

“How am I supposed to feel when you haven’t spoken to me in over a year and you immediately make an ask of me?”

It may be a more assertive move, but this Calibrated Question demands that the other person formulate a thoughtful response with the added bonus of triggering empathy on the other side. 

Remember the Relationship

After sending UNSUBSCRIBE, the other person realized something valuable–the friend they contacted thought they were spam. There’s no relationship with spam, there’s no personal connection. They’ve missed it.

Ultimately our tools bring us back to the main source of connection–empathy. It’s about recognizing the other person’s perspective, wants and needs. 

Relationships aren’t clickbait. Nobody wants to be spammed. Real, genuine connections are the roots of thriving long term relationships. 

Take our advice—unsubscribe from being used. 

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